See also On The Dragons of Dirt
The second series of Dirt continues the tale of the Farthing family many generations later; indeed, around five hundred years later. Whereas in series one, two of the initial main characters, Johnson Farthing and Weasel (Eafa), are male, for series two I made the very conscious decision to make the two primary human characters female; Silvi Farthing and Eiferra. I wanted the opportunity to explore the roles of women in Dirt society a little more than I did in the first series and I was also keen to write about strong young women who were not defined by impractical skimpy costumes, big breasts and a look that was probably created by some zitty, hormonal, young, male, teen who thinks a female is something you poke and giggle at (I am being kinder than usual; trust me).
My two heroines could not be more different in many ways.
Silvi Farthing, the great daughter (by many generations) of Johnson Farthing and Mistry, is a seventeen-year-old girl living on the warm Isle of Hope. The Farthing family have not improved much since the days of Ferall “Bent” Farthing, Johnson’s criminal father, and she is the only girl in a family of abusive, misogynistic men. But Silvi is intelligent and resourceful, and she persuades her drunken father to let her leave home and try to make it on her own rather than being forced into a forced marriage. For the next year until the beginning of our story, she renovates a tiny fisherman’s hut and starts a small goat farm and cheese making business. She has not become suddenly famous or wealthy, this is a very simple, poor life, but she has created something she can grow and has done everything herself. She might be still young, occasionally silly, and not always the most confident person around, but she is proud of her achievements and rightly so.
Ferret, on the other hand, might look like a young woman of twenty-ish, but she is her father’s daughter and her father was Eafa the Ancient, better known as Weasel. Ferret, more properly named Eiferra (pron: Ay-i-FEER-er), is five hundred and twenty years old. Unlike Weasel who spent most of his thousand years travelling around or arguing politics and never had anywhere he could really call home, Ferret has spent her life either living in her late mother’s villa on the coast of Gornenshire or spending time in a wagon as a travelling healer. She is rather innocent of the wider world and its politics, despite her many years, but is not without wisdom. She is acutely aware of the plight of the common man and the poverty of her world, and is not short of opinions when it comes to the inequality she sees, especially between the sexes.
So, two women, one very young, and a tale that will plunge them into danger, present them with impossible choices and will test them. And to this, I add dragons.
Dragons are important to me for several reasons other than just being fun to write about. They are my benchmark, my ideal society. They are not territorial (they fly and so borders mean nothing), they do not have towns since they travel fast enough to not need to gather resources and skills in one place, they live hundreds of years and so regard friendship as more important than blood, and their lives are not based on huge riches. In consequence, they have little to fight over between themselves and there is no history of dragon-v-dragon wars; they simply do not understand them. Lastly, they don’t see any differences between male and female. In my story, I constantly use the puzzlement of dragons to highlight the problems in the human society on Dirt, and, of course, our own society.
Silvi, in particular, not only has to grow to become a great leader at a very young age, but she has to battle against men who see her as nothing more than an object to be bossed around. She is not alone in this. One peasant woman she meets comments about the fighting knives Silvi carries.
“You look warm in those strange clothes. What they for? And I noticed your knives in your coat.”
“Travelling clothes where I am from. The knives I need. Little blondes seem to attract the wrong kind of men, sadly.”
“I know it well, girl,” the woman said, and Silvi saw the ghost of a memory pass across the woman’s face.
Silvi’s experiences are far from unique, and that moment of understanding between two women is more convincing than any comment from a male character. That is important in this story and in our own world too; women speaking for women. I suppose I contradict that myself since I am a man. But the point is still important.
Silvi is a character that I hope young women especially will relate to. I have based her on a friend of mine from thirty years ago who was strong and opinionated but could go from wise debater to self-conscious teen in a second. I have brought that side into Silvi’s character. She is at least partly inspired by Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc) who was another very young woman who became a leader. That real history shows it is possible for a young woman to take control, even within a society where men are seen as at the forefront of life; the justification coming from their religious beliefs, supposedly. But I didn’t want to forget how young Silvi is.
On Dirt, most people are illiterate. Children are working by the time they are ten, and young girls often married and having children by fifteen. But, they are still young and still act young, even if they carry responsibilities that our modern youngsters are denied. I wanted Silvi to be intelligent, inspiring and capable, but occasionally ruin the effect because she giggles in the wrong place. I also needed her to have her confidence knocked because her age let her down sometimes. I felt it made her more recognisable. If I just turned her into an incredible hero who just happened to be seventeen, then it would be unbelievable. The reader would quite rightly ask, “where is the young girl?”
Eiferra was more of a problem. At five hundred and twenty years old, she carries a lot of authority, simply through long experience. But she looks only twenty. Those who do not know her true age, which she tends to keep hidden, are confused by this. Take this conversation between Ferret and a king who is ignorant of who she really is.
“You sound like my mother. She was never one for swordplay.”
“And was she right?”
“More often than my father ever admitted,” he said, laughing. “You are a puzzle, young Ferret, if that is really your name.”
“It is, or rather it is my childhood name which has sort of stuck. I like it. It keeps people guessing.”
“Yes, it does. I look at you and I see a beautiful young woman, smooth-faced, not a line on her, strong and full of youth. And then I talk to you, and I hear my mother, even my grandmother. The two do not fit well together.”
“I have a young face, Hornan.”
“And an evasive manner, girl!” For a moment, the king returned, but then he relaxed and smiled. “I suspect when it comes to such matters I am always going to lose with you. Though I also understand why my friend over there seems to find any excuse to go up to your little cottage. He says your living room is the warmest place in the world.”
It has been a bit of a balancing act for me. In the end, although both Silvi and Ferret show great wisdom, Ferret is more likely to say things in a neater, cleverer way. Silvi tends to yell in anger. Silvi’s accomplishments by the end of the series are incredible, but her young age and young emotions often threaten to undermine her. Later in the series, she admits how hard she is finding everything.
Silvi slipped her arm through Ferrets. “Thanks, Eiferra. You know what this is doing to me, don’t you?”
“Yes, I do, Silvi. I am not going to let you fall. I Promise.”
However clever and strong Silvi is, she still needs the strength and wisdom of another, older woman.
There are three books in the second series and the two women are centre stage supported by lots of other female characters as well as strong men and the ever-present dragons. Although the story has Silvi at its head, the tale is about the dragons, hundreds of them, and they are everywhere in the story, often with equal billing to Silvi and the others. They love their human friends and the friendships are powerful, but they are also puzzled by these small creatures. There is hope. Several people joke that one day Silvi will sprout wings. Humans who work with dragons often end up thinking like dragons. Of course they do; it is an attractive way to live and to love. Dragons have great humour, though sometimes sarcastic, are fiercely loyal to their friends and, most of all, don’t lie. They can keep a confidence, of course, but to just come out with a lie is something they seem unequipped to do. Enough so that they can be easily fooled; they don’t see a lie coming. As Mab-Abin points out:
“Dragons are not good at lying so if you don’t want us to tell someone something, don’t tell us in the first place. It works.”
This open honesty and unconditional love shown by even the vast Draig Mynyth Coh (Red Mountain Dragons) puts human society to the test. Without meaning to, they set a standard for people like Silvi to live up to, but many in society are not so interested in the egalitarian attitude of the dragons. Perhaps it is not surprising, therefore, that it is often women who are most eager to train as dragon riders. On Dirt, friendship with dragons gives them an equality that their own society denies them.
Series two is out now, starting with Girls of Dirt for free, and followed by Dragons of Dirt and People of Dirt.